Had it been fully human, it would have been confused upon awakening, but it wasn't fully human. As such, it was immediately aware of a large amount of information, some of which didn't make any sense, but it wasn't worried. It knew what "worry" meant. It just didn't feel that particular emotion, at present. Maybe it would, some day, but not at present. Somehow it knew that, given time, this or that piece of information would settle into its appropriate place in relationship to all the other bits of knowledge floating around in its...
It knew what "brain" meant too, but was aware it didn't have one. It didn't worry about that either.
Awareness announced that it wasn't "real" in the sense that it had no body. It wasn't a creature, per se. It was more of a concept that had an almost, but not quite, physical reality. It realized it was "hungry," but not in the human sense of the concept. The fact that it didn't know what it was hungry for didn't bother it. It knew, somehow, that sustenance would be forthcoming. It had some kind of task to complete, and when that was achieved, it sensed it wouldn't be hungry any more.
It reflected, for a while, on the fact that it had been human at one time, or at least nearly so. It didn't remember that phase of its life, or what it had felt like, but it knew that would return as well, in time. "Return from where?" it asked itself. "Where have I been?" It drifted, knowing it was invisible to human eyes. "Why am I here now?" it wondered. "What am I?"
A concept formed in its consciousness. Ghost. It decided it was a ghost. But whose ghost? It decided that didn't matter. It was content to be, simply, "Ghost."
It took an interest in its immediate surroundings. It had no "eyes" but knew it was perceiving the reality around it as if it did. That was yet another thing it didn't fret about. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that it had a task to pursue. It realized it didn't know what that task was.
If it had had shoulders, they might have shrugged.
That, too, would take care of itself.
And yet it could move around. It did so, exploring its immediate environment. Realization came to it that it could only move within certain bounds. It concentrated on the thing nearby. The knowledge that it was a construct of steel, plastic, copper and a few other materials didn't announce its purpose. There was the smell of oil about it, and the memory of motion in its components. It was a machine of some sort. The ghost wondered idly why there seemed to be a feeling of incompleteness about the thing.
That was interesting only in as much as it became clear that it was tied to this machine in some way. It could move away from the machine, but when it did so it felt wrong, somehow. The urge to return to the device grew stronger and stronger, the farther away the ghost floated.
In the end it hovered over the machine ... just waiting.
Linda Tomlinson's awakening, that morning, was as similar as daylight seems during the day. She got up and did all the same things she did every day to get ready to go to work. A quick shower was followed by a few hurried strokes of the brush through her hair. A dab of lipstick, then her regular bowl of oatmeal with just a splash of milk preceded the pulling on of clothes before she snatched up her purse and left her apartment.
Linda didn't think about the fact that she was unhappily single as she navigated the roads to Robard Manufacturing, where she operated a lathe for exactly 390 minutes per day. She was a member of the union, so the normal 540 minutes of the work day was strictly regulated. The first hour and the hour after lunch were the only unbroken sixty minute work periods. The other six work hours consisted of a fifteen minute break, followed by forty-five minutes of actual work. Lunch was an hour, of course.
Linda walked from her car to the plant entrance, where she plucked her ID badge off of the board and moved on to the locker where her apron and face shield were stored. Then she went to her lathe. It was three minutes until eight, by the clock on the wall. She stood patiently, waiting for the hand of the clock to click three more times so she could swipe her ID badge through the reader on her lathe and start work.
It was during those three minutes, while she had nothing else to think about, that she reflected on the fact that she had no man in her life ... no social life at all, really.
Three minutes seems like such a short time, but thoughts move at the speed of light and light can travel a long, long way in three minutes. Linda had plenty of time to blame the fact that she was lonely on her almost crippling shyness. She knew she wasn't bad looking. Men had approached her in the past. She knew that Randy, who worked at the lathe immediately to her left, would come by within a minute or two, smile, and say "Hey, beautiful." It was his standard greeting. His smile was always open. There was clearly invitation in his tone of voice and posture.
She knew she would say exactly the same thing she'd always said to Randy. He always got a simple, one syllable response: "Hi."
She felt emotion swelling inside of her, threatening to burst out. At one time she'd thought she was having panic attacks, but a course of therapy had identified it as simple frustration that she was so shy she almost couldn't even talk to the therapist. While the therapy sessions hadn't helped with the shyness, at least she understood now what was happening inside her. She liked Randy. He was a nice guy. He was also single. She wanted so much to be able to respond to his overtures, and it was tremendously frustrating that she couldn't.
Her eyes darted toward movement, perceived in her peripheral vision. It was Randy, walking toward her. Her heart lurched and, for maybe the hundredth time, she tried to look him in the eyes.
Ghost observed the woman coming toward "his" machine. He suddenly felt male for some reason. There had been other humans passing nearby, but none of them had seemed interesting. This woman changed that, somehow. Ghost watched as she approached, noticing all the things that made her female. There was the hour glass shape, under the apron she wore. Ghost didn't puzzle about why it could see through that garment. It simply tried to look deeper. That turned out to be as easy as simply trying to do so and suddenly it was as if the woman had nothing on at all. Her breasts were rounded, without a hint of sag, and capped by strikingly pink nipples that were flat at the moment. Her ribs below those breasts could almost be seen, and the curve of their ending led naturally to a flat abdomen, flanked by swelling hips. Her pubic thatch was full and dark, made darker by the pale white of her thighs.
Idly the ghost tried to go even deeper, and saw the striations of red and white muscle beneath the skin, flanked by thin slabs of dull yellow fat. Organs lay beneath the layers of flesh, and starkly white bones supported the entire mass.
The ghost's consciousness found the spine, an intricate web of outrageously shaped bones connected by milky pads, surrounding a thick magenta cord. Following the cord led to the skull, wherein lay the convoluted mass of gray and white tissue that seemed to glow somehow.
Ghost realized it was drifting toward the woman. It didn't resist. It wondered what the brain might feel like, wrapped around its consciousness. It sank into the rubbery flesh easily, to find itself surrounded by frantic activity as electrical pulses flashed all around.
Finally! Something interesting – no - fascinating to observe.
Ghost spent a few nanoseconds latched onto one of those electrical impulses and was taken for a wild ride through the woman's body, leaving it with a giddy feeling. It released, just floating in the woman's mind, examining her thoughts. For some reason the ghost thought of a library, containing millions of books. Each thought/book had its own unique color. Any of them could be opened in an instant, and read in even less time.
One thought burned brightly in the woman's brain. It had a brilliant hue that was pure white, stained by streaks of neon pink. Longing radiated from that thought.
Ghost felt hunger again. It felt the pull of that brilliant, longing surge of neurons.
Like a tired and sore bather, entering the soothing water of a hot tub, the ghost sank into the bright ball of longing.
Randy's eyes were on Linda as he approached. "She sure is easy on the eyes," he thought, feeling the muscles in his face shift into a smile. He knew she was shy. It was obvious. He knew she didn't find him repulsive or anything like that. That's why he never gave up.
He watched her eyes dart this way and that, and the tinge of pink creep into her cheeks. In his fantasies she was happy to see him ... waiting for him to notice her ... glad of that notice. He knew he was no Romeo. He was the kind of guy women wanted to be friends with, rather than having any kind of romantic involvement. He was cursed by being a "nice guy."
"Hey, beautiful," he said as he got almost even with her.
"Hey, handsome," she replied.
Linda felt a flash of heat as the words somehow leaked out of her mouth. She couldn't believe she'd said that. Shock held her immobile for a few seconds as Randy continued by her.
Then he stopped, as if he was frozen too. Her eyes saw him turning toward her and she realized that she couldn't move her eyes away, as she would normally do.
She found herself looking at his face. She'd done that a hundred times over the last six months they'd worked next to each other, but this was like seeing him for the first time. She realized his eyes were blue, something she'd never noticed before. His face reflected a bewildering combination of shock and delight. She thought the shock must be a reflection of how she felt her own face must look. The delight made a ball of warmth surge in her abdomen.
"You really are beautiful," said Randy. "I'm not just saying that, and I'm not hitting on you."
Linda was astonished to realize her mouth was opening again, and that she was going to speak again! She'd heard of out-of-body experiences, and this was almost like that, except that she was somehow watching from within herself as her lips said, "I know. Thank you."
Then the buzzer went off, as the long hand of the clock on the wall clicked to the 12 mark. Linda jumped and automatically her hand, holding her ID badge, moved to the card reader on the lathe. She swiped the card and the machine hummed as electricity was fed to its components. She felt like her body was humming too, somehow. She looked over at Randy's lathe, but he wasn't there. Her head moved to find him still standing, staring at her with that silly grin on his face.
"Talk to you later," he suggested.
"OK," she said. Her amazement, this time, was that she'd consciously decided to say that.
Ghost bathed in the delicious emotions surging through the woman. "I am Linda," it thought. A millisecond of reflection brought change to the concept. "I am with Linda," it corrected.
If three minutes, at the speed of light, is a long time, sixty of them allows for almost unlimited possibilities in the arena of thought.
Linda's job was really to keep an eye on the automated lathe, rather than control it. Once it was set up to produce an item, all she really had to do was observe as the item was created. Her practiced eye detected when a bit began to dull and needed to be changed. She took measurements, occasionally, and removed the finished item when it was complete. Putting new stock into the jaws took almost no thought. As such, she had more than enough time to think about what, to her mind, was the earth shaking change that had just taken place in her life.
She had time to glance at Randy often, and did so. About half the time she found his blue eyes glancing her way, too. The flicker of his smile seemed like a laser, shooting into her eyes and being bounced, somehow, to her belly, where it fed a ball of glowing heat that made her feet shuffle amid the flakes and curlicues of waste produced by the lathe.
And, while Linda had time to think, the ghost had more than enough time to explore its host. The body itself took only a few minutes to learn. Most of the time was spent in that immense library that was Linda's mind, opening book after book, discovering her hopes and fears and fantasies.
By the time the buzzer sounded for the first break of the day, Linda, to her astonishment, found she was looking forward to actually talking to Randy. She punched the button that put the lathe on standby and stepped back. She turned to find him standing there, a look of almost worry on his face.
"You want to get a Coke?" he asked.
"A Coke," she said, feeling the word seem to flow in her mouth like the liquid it represented. "Yes, that would be good."
As thoughts move at the speed of light, sometimes it seems like time moves just as quickly. That first break seemed to flash by. When Linda returned to her lathe it seemed as though she'd been in a flickering dream. She knew they'd talked. She remembered saying things, and hearing his liquid tenor voice. But for the life of her she had no idea what they had talked about. All she could remember was how beautiful his blue eyes were, and how it felt like she could sink into them if she tried.
The next two breaks were similar except that, with each succeeding one, she could remember a little more of what was actually said. The primary thing she remembered after the third break was her voice saying "Hey, do you like tacos?" It had been an invitation, and he had accepted gladly.
The noon buzzer rang and she swiped her card again. The lathe went silent, its noise replaced by the hustle and bustle of people moving all over the plant. Randy's hand touched her elbow and it felt like a steel hand from within a furnace, except that somehow it was velvety, instead of hard.
They walked to the taco stand a block from the plant. There were plastic tables and chairs scattered around, part of an urban improvement project the taxpayers had funded. Once laden with containers of food and drink, they sat.
"I don't understand what's happening," she said suddenly.
"Me either," said Randy, grinning. "But I'm glad it is."
"Me too," said Linda. She looked shocked. "There! I can't believe I said that!"
"Am I such a pain to be around?" asked Randy, looking less sure of himself. "I mean I know I've been a little blatant about my interest in you."
"No," said Linda almost as if her mind was wandering. "I love it when you call me beautiful." She blinked. "I can't believe I said that either!"
"What's to believe?" he asked, feeling better. "I'm attracted to you, and you're attracted to me ... right?"
She blinked again. She stared at him and, for the first time in her life, she gave voice to what she was thinking about a man.
"Yes! I am attracted to you!"
Linda wasn't the only person who had been doing a lot of thinking over the last four hours. Some of it consisted of incredulity at the change in Linda's behavior. But Randy was a practical kind of man. He didn't get the chance to look a gift horse in the mouth often, but rather than doing that he just accepted that something had changed. It was change for the good, as far as he was concerned. Why question that?
"I can't tell you how glad I am to hear that," he said. Then he grinned and stuffed half a taco in his mouth. The burst of flavor that assailed his taste buds punctuated the thought that life was good.
Both chewed silently for a moment. Then Randy spoke again.
"Hey, I know where there's this Halloween party going on Friday night. You want to go?"
The impulse to say "Yes!" was so strong in her that she didn't even try to understand it.
"I do," she said, managing to restrain her voice to something other than a yip of joy.
Ghost wallowed in a bath of dopamine, luxuriating in it like a reptile soaking up warmth from the sun. Not that it was cold blooded. It was anything but that though, oddly, it had no blood of its own. It contemplated briefly upon whether it was some kind of parasite, using Linda's blood and emotion in place of what it didn't have. The hunger convinced it that was not the case, because while it was delighted at the feelings it was sharing in, the hunger persisted. It wasn't feeding on Linda.
Not yet, anyway.
It wondered about the man, sitting across from it at the table. In those first few seconds of entering Linda it had recognized the man as a trigger to certain impulses and thoughts in the woman's mind. It had been so occupied with exploring Linda, though, that it hadn't paid much attention to the Randy person.
Still exploring its own capabilities, it tried moving toward Randy. It was possible, but there was a thread of some kind that still attached it to Linda.
Ghost knew, intuitively, that the thread was ultimately breakable, but not right now. It floated closer to Randy, deciding on a whim to enter his body through the nostrils.
The feel was COMPLETELY different. The library of the brain was there, but somehow all the books were different than Linda's. Ghost floated for a few milliseconds, just observing.
They were two and a half minutes late getting back and clocking in. Usually that led to an ass chewing by the supervisor. Rules were rules, and if management had to obey them, then the union members did too. It was a rigid framework, that normally crushed the soul over time ... of both types of employee.
But someone else had committed a more serious infraction of some kind, and the supervisor was otherwise occupied when they started up their lathes again.
Somehow, to the amazement of both, by the end of the day, Linda had agreed to be picked up at eight the following Friday night.
She had also agreed to wear a costume.
Ghost knew it could affect its host. While it could do almost nothing on its own, if it settled into certain parts of the host's brain, it could make the host do things. It flexed those mental "muscles" experimentally, which almost led to disaster. Linda was operating another kind of machine at the time, one that was heavier and mobile. She used almost none of the prodigious processing power of her brain, which was why the ghost chose to exert control at that time.
It took fully ten seconds for her terror to convince it that this had been a bad idea. While she got the car back under control, the ghost hovered, just watching her thoughts, to see what had happened.
This is how the ghost learned that it had apparently never operated a motor vehicle in its misty, still undisclosed past.
Linda shook her head.
"What the hell just happened?" she asked, out loud. She had felt the loss of control wash over her like a tidal wave, making her feel completely limp and helpless. The car had wandered toward the curb, its speed unabated. She tried to push the brake, but couldn't move any part of her body.
Then, like magic, control had returned and she'd pulled over to stop, breathing heavily.
"Great," she thought. "I finally develop some command over my life and now I'm probably having a stroke. Please, God, don't let me die before I go on my first date."
Ghost zeroed in on this "God" concept. It seemed familiar, somehow, but there was no definition for the concept in her library. Rather it was as if this God thing was similar to the Randy thing, except that she didn't know as much about God. It was almost as if she had never met this entity, and yet knew it anyway.
Ghost stopped thinking about that and paid attention to how Linda made the machine behave. It wanted to know how to do that, should it ever decide to take control of her again.
Linda sat in her easy chair in front of the television. She was thinking, which was why the TV wasn't actually on. She was trying to puzzle out why she had become so positively talkative on this groundbreaking day. She had not consciously decided to. It had simply happened. Not that she wasn't pleased about it. Delighted might be the better adjective. But she was a very pragmatic person, and she wanted to understand what had happened.
She couldn't put her finger on any one thing that had happened to break down the towering barrier that had always surrounded her. It was more like a link in the fence had broken, causing the whole thing to just fall into pieces of glittering metal at her feet.
She decided she wasn't going to worry about it. It had felt wonderful to step across all that glittering metal, if only to eat a taco with Randy.
She replayed what she could remember from those moments in her mind until the concept "party" leapt from the shadows of her mind, almost as if it jumped out and yelled, "Boo!"
"How appropriate," she muttered. "That I'd be frightened by the idea of a Halloween party."
But she wasn't frightened. Rather, she was eager to do this strange thing that she'd never done before.
"A costume!" she yipped out loud. "I need a costume!"
The next two days were nerve wracking for Randy, primarily because he was well aware that Linda's behavior had been other than normal. He was afraid she'd back out of their date, and that was something he would be exorbitantly disappointed by, should it happen.
But each time he mentioned it to her, she nodded and smiled.
"I thought up a costume," she said.
"What is it?" he asked, thinking that perhaps he could come up with something that went with it.
"It's a secret," she said. "But you won't believe it."
"I'm sure I will," he pledged, laughing.
"No, you won't," she said, firmly. "It's completely out of character for me."
"I can't wait," he said.
"You have to." She giggled.
They ate lunch together both days, but no matter what he tried, she would not tell him what her costume was going to be.
Ghost didn't feel anxious any more. It still had a task to complete but that was in the process of happening. It still didn't know what the task was, but somehow it knew it was making progress. The "hunger" it had felt was still there, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It also knew that hunger would be satisfied. Again, not how, just that it would happen.
It had used Linda's sleep cycle to tramp around in her brain, exploring the library, moving at breakneck speed, but realizing that it would take decades to poke into every corner of her mind. It was awed by the prodigious storage, and puzzled because she clearly did not have access to all the data stored there. Much of it had been "forgotten," something the ghost couldn't fathom. It reflected back on its awakening. It had forgotten much while it slept too.
That made it feel vulnerable. When might it sleep again? Would it do so willingly, or by some twist of events beyond its control?
Its experience with assuming control of Linda while she drove informed it that this taking control thing might not be a good idea. It was aware that this corporeal shell she (and it!) inhabited was fragile. It knew it could leave her body and slip into another if it had to, but it didn't want to. It felt comfortable inside her ... right, somehow. Its rambling investigation had bumped into something that her library identified as "soul", which was the most fascinating thing it had discovered since it woke. This "soul" was the only part of her that Ghost could not penetrate, not even observe. It was an insubstantial, wraithlike thing. It occurred to him that his own existence was similar in nature, at least from the outside. Was it possible that another entity like himself was co-located with him in her body?